Antonia Behan

Antonia Behan

Assistant Professor

Department of Art History and Art Conservation

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Research Interests

Research Interests: Nineteenth- and twentieth-century craft and design, especially in relation to industrialism and colonialism in Britain and South Asia; global Arts and Crafts; global and decentered modernisms; textiles and weaving; histories of materials; artisanal epistemologies; design historiography; history and theory of conservation; Global Design History and Material Cultures.


My work focuses on global entanglements in craft and design in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I completed my PhD in Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center in New York City, supported by a SSHRC Doctoral Award. My book manuscript focuses on the British handweaver Ethel Mairet and her first husband, the art historian and theorist Ananda Coomaraswamy. Setting these figures within their wider networks in design and craft practice and education across Britain, South Asia, and Germany (including the Bauhaus), I seek to reframe the historiography of design history and the field’s central engagement with the Industrial Revolution and modernity, especially as these intersect with colonialism. As a historian of textiles, I am interested in the histories of materials, craft knowledge, and the relationship between design history and design practice; my teaching emphasizes material literacy and studying objects as primary sources. My museum experience includes work on exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Bard Graduate Center, New York, and work in textiles collections and conservation. In addition to my work in design and craft history, I am interested in the history and theory of conservation, especially the intersections of traditional practice and conceptual art. My current research examines global legacies of Arts and Crafts, regional modernisms, and the writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy.

I also co-founded the Craft History Workshop, a works-in-progress seminar for interdisciplinary histories of making that aims to expand the temporal, geographic, and methodological scope of research in craft history.

I am currently working on two projects. My current book project, The Brain of the Machine: Crafting Design in Britain and South Asia 1902–1952 examines the practical and theoretical work of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1946) and his first wife, the English handweaver Ethel Mairet (1872–1952) to bring into focus how craft practice was repositioned in design education in Britain and South Asia in the early twentieth century. 

Global Legacies of Arts and Crafts is a project that reconsiders the legacies of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement around the world. Examining cases that expand beyond Euro-American geographies and frameworks, this project expands the study of Arts and Crafts to consider its interrelations with modernism, imperialism, settler colonialism, industrialization, nationalism, and gender by looking at the translation, appropriation, and reinterpretation of Arts and Crafts ideals in global and transnational contexts. For more, see



Recent Publications

"Ethel Mairet’s Textile Biotechnics and the Aesthetics of Materials,” Journal of Modern Craft 14, no. 3 (2021) 

Commentary: “Stoffe im Raum” by Otti Berger (1930), Translated by Ethel Mairet (c.1940),” Journal of Modern Craft 14, no. 3 (2021) 

“Interchanged Threads: History and Modernism in Ethel Mairet, the Bauhaus Weavers, and Nikolaus Pevsner,” Sites of Interchange: Modernism, Politics, and Culture between Britain and Germany, 1919–1955, ed. Lucy Wasensteiner (Bern: Peter Lang, 2021) (forthcoming, December 2021)